Unlikely Documents? Exploring Finnish Nineteenth-Century Life Writing From Below

Anna Kuismin


The expression unlikely documents in the title of this article is coined by Marlene Kadar and Jeanne Perreault. It refers to the appearance of auto/biography in unexpected places, texts that “bespeak either an extended or a limited story about a person’s life.” The article focuses on nineteenth-century Finnish life writing from below, texts produced by rural people with no formal education. The cases analysed include a notebook of hymns by a mistress of a farm, a chronicle penned by a modest country tailor, wooden boards inscribed by a saddle maker living on poor relief and textiles produced by a weaver woman. Seen in their contexts, these extraordinary texts prove to be understandable, even plausible: people who were not well-versed in literary genres and styles, had to make their choices from resources that were available there and then. In spite of the limited repertoire of models, the authors were able to express themselves and bring their subjectivity to the fore, in one way or another. Their texts can also be seen as tools of empowerment and vehicles of creativity for people in marginal positions at the time when writing did not belong to the life of the great majority.


life writing from below, literacy, materiality of writing, nineteenthcentury Finland

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5463/ejlw.7.242


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European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by University of Groningen Library